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Congressman: Opposition to abortion rights came after wife's abortions

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais has told a newspaper that his views about abortion have evolved after previously supporting his ex-wife's decisions to abort pregnancies during their marriage.

The Republican physician from Jasper who now opposes abortion also says he has no plans to resign over revelations about past relationships with patients.

DesJarlais told The Knoxville News Sentinel ( ) this week that he deeply regrets past relationships with multiple women, including patients and co-workers.

He made his first extensive remarks since divorce records from 2001 were released that also substantiated claims by Democratic opponents that he urged a lover to get an abortion and used a gun to intimidate his ex-wife.

DesJarlais was re-elected on Nov. 6. He told the newspaper that he intends to run again in two years and he hopes that voters will weigh his job in Congress and not judge him on his past.

"I am human," he said during an interview with the newspaper. "I don't think I ever put myself out there to be somebody that was perfect. I put myself out there as somebody who wanted to serve the public."

He added, "I will serve as long as the people want me to serve."

In court records, DesJarlais said the first abortion with his ex-wife occurred when she was on an experimental drug that created potential risks for the pregnancy. He said the second abortion came while the couple was having problems in the relationship.

DesJarlais said that the charges of hypocrisy for his previous support of abortion are unfair because he said his views on the issue have evolved over time.

"I guess as a physician, I was a fairly objective person," he said of his beliefs at the time. "I try not to be a judgmental person. (Abortion) was just not something that I put as much thought into as I should have, in retrospect. Going back, if I could change and do things differently, certainly I would."

He said that his current marriage to his wife, Amy, also helped change his opinion. He said she had gotten pregnant in high school, but chose to get married and have the child. After her husband died when the child was 3 years old, she later married DesJarlais, who helped raise her son.

"I can't imagine not having Tyler as my son," he said. "That certainly had a major influence on my life and my beliefs."

DesJarlais also said that he did not intend to deceive when he denied allegations that he had recorded a conversation with a sexual partner in which he urged her to get an abortion.

Although the court records show that he admitted to making the tape, he said he believed that the woman was not pregnant and was trying to get her to admit it. The woman insisted in court records that she was pregnant, although she declined to give the outcome of the pregnancy.

"One of the biggest mistakes I made," DesJarlais said, "was I commented to the press before I had the opportunity to go back and read a transcript that was 13, 14 years old. It was never my intention to mislead anyone, and had I read this, I don't think the inaccuracies that occurred would have taken place."

He also regretted the past relationships he had with two patients and three co-workers while he was chief of staff at Grandview Medical Center in Jasper. He had previously denied a newspaper report that said he had a sexual relationship with a patient and he prescribed her painkillers.

"It was in poor taste, and it was a poor decision on my part," DesJarlais said of the relationships. "If I had a chance to go back and do it over again, I would change many things, and that would be one of them.''

A formal complaint has been filed with the Tennessee Department of Health arguing that DesJarlais should be disciplined by the state for conducting an inappropriate sexual relationship with a patient.

But he declined to answer questions about the prescription, citing privacy laws

"Every prescription, including this prescription, I think was appropriate for the condition that it was prescribed for."

DesJarlais said he wants to run for re-election in another two years, despite the fact that he and his wife felt their private lives were on display during the last two campaigns.

"We both feel like we have been stripped pretty much naked in front of the entire district and now maybe the country," DesJarlais said. But "we will continue with thick skin."

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